Hisashi Iwakuma Forced from Rehab Outing with Blister


Hisashi Iwakuma shut down the Las Vegas 51’s in Tacoma in his final rehab outing on June 30th, however he was forced from the game due to a blister on his throwing hand. Iwakuma has been on the disabled list with a strained lat since late April.

Iwakuma was dominant on Tuesday night with the Rainiers. The 34-year-old right-hander threw 5.2 innings of 1-run ball while allowing 5 hits. Kuma fanned 5 and walked 1 in his most impressive outing of the season. Iwakuma is at his best when he is keeping the ball on the ground, and he did a great job of that last night. He induced 6 groundouts against 2 fly outs.

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The Tokyo, JP product has now made 3 rehab starts, and he has shown signs of progression in each. Iwakuma allowed 1 run on 3 hits across 3.2 innings with the Everrett AquaSox on June 20th. Kuma then pitched 4 shutout frames for the Rainiers against the Reno Aces on June 25th. He has registered a 1.35 ERA across 13.1 innings in the minor leagues this season. Iwakuma’s 13:2 strikeout to walk ratio is very impressive.

Hisashi Iwakuma has been abysmal for the M’s this season. Across 3 starts in April, he went 0-1 with a 6.61 ERA. My biggest concern is that his struggles date back to the end of last season. Kuma finished 2014 going 4-3 with a 7.88 ERA over his last 7 starts. Since August 24th of last year, Iwakuma is 4-4 with a 7.23 ERA. He has left far too many pitches over the heart of the plate, and the opposition has hit 11 home runs off Kuma across his last 10 outings. I have a hard time believing he will ever recapture the form that saw him represent the Mariners at the 2013 All Star game.

The M’s were expected to recall Kuma this week, but his most recent injury puts his return into question. Blisters have been a common issue for Iwakuma during his career. Kuma throws a deadly splitter, and it often leads to blisters developing on his throwing hand. The veteran starter had this to say following last night’s game:

"“It happened in the sixth inning. I threw a split and felt the blister pop, and then on the curveball where I struck [center fielder Alex Castellanos] out, I felt it kind of rip open. It’s common for me.”"

It is reassuring to hear that Hisashi Iwakuma is not overly concerned about the blister. The Mariners’ training staff is accustomed to dealing with these types of injuries, and should be able to easily assess the severity of the blister. Hopefully kuma’s issue is only a bump in the road, and will not force his performance to suffer or him to miss significant time.

Iwakuma is being paid $7 million dollars in 2015, and thus he will be returning to the Mariners’ starting rotation. With Kuma returning shortly to the M’s, who will be sent down to make room? I would have guessed Mike Montgomery a couple of weeks ago, but after hurling consecutive complete game shutouts, Monty is here to stay. I expect Roenis Elias to be demoted to Tacoma when Kuma is recalled.

Jun 19, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Roenis Elias (29) throws out a pitch during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Elias made his first start of the season for Seattle on April 26th. The Cuban southpaw had an inconsistent rookie campaign in 2014, but immediately became one of the M’s better starters after his promotion this year. The 26-year-old went 3-3 with a 2.79 ERA across his first 9 starts. However, Elias’ has gone 1-2 and posted a 10.29 ERA over his last 3 outings. He has allowed 3 home runs, and the opposition is hitting .271 against him since June 14th.

Elias is scheduled to start on Thursday night when the Mariners take on the A’s in Oakland. I fully expect him to pitch tomorrow, but look for Elias to be sent down to Tacoma prior to his next scheduled start on July 7th. That would give Iwakuma ample time to hopefully recover from his blister.

I still have serious doubts about Hisashi Iwakuma’s ability to be an effective pitcher for Seattle, but Elias is hurting the M’s right now. The Mariners are struggling to score runs this season, and they need consistent starting pitching to have a chance to get back into the playoff picture. Whether kuma is capable of helping in this regard is still yet to be determined, but Elias has shown himself to not be up to the challenge.

Hisashi Iwakuma has Cy Young caliber stuff when he is on his game, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he will not finish the season in the Mariners’ starting rotation.

Next: Mariners Analysis: The Frustrating AL West and Today's Lineups

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